A strain of bird flu that scientists thought could not infect people has shown up in a Taiwanese woman, a nasty surprise which shows scientists must do more to spot worrying flu strains before they ignite a global outbreak, doctors say.
The woman, 20, was hospitalised in May with a lung infection. After being treated with Tamiflu and antibiotics, she was released. One of her throat swabs was sent to the Taiwan Centres for Disease Control. Experts there identified it as the H6N1 bird flu, widely circulating in chickens on the island.
The patient worked in a deli and had no known connection to live birds. Investigators couldn't figure out how she was infected. But they noted that several of her close family and friends also developed flu-like symptoms after spending time with her, although none tested positive for H6N1. The research was published yesterday in the journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine.
Since the H5N1 bird flu strain first broke out in southern China in 1996, public health officials have been nervously monitoring its progress - it has so far killed more than 600 people, mostly in Asia.